CIO success combines human touch skills and Technology Quotient

Profile picture for user Philip van der Wilt By Philip van der Wilt December 16, 2019
To be successful, CIOs must build organizations that combine human touch skills with Technology Quotient (TQ) savvy, writes ServiceNow's Philip van der Wilt

Woman with technology quotient hair © Kiselev Andrey Valerevich - shutterstock

During a CIO forum I attended recently we talked about TQ or Technology Quotient — for those not familiar with it, it’s a term used by technology futurologists Ayesha and Parag Khanna. They describe our era as a Hybrid Reality — a deep shift marked by ubiquitous, social technology — and predict that TQ will become the dominant force behind geopolitics and equity.

In the Hybrid Reality era, where digital is defining the pace of our evolution, it is companies with a higher overall TQ that will be more successful. And by ‘overall TQ’ I mean the combined level of computing skills of the entire organization, not just of IT employees.

IT has evolved from a stand-alone factory into a connective tissue of the enterprise. Today, there is a continuous process of innovation originating from the business and its platforms, with business and IT merging into one.

Taking TQ as a measure of our ability to successfully leverage technology is enabling us to better appreciate the profound change that is taking place within the business.

What does this mean for the CIO?

From my many conversations with CIOs – across different sectors and regions — two important themes continue to stun me with the consistency of their appearance. First, the role of the CIO becoming ever more business-focused, with CIOs acting as enterprise-wide orchestrators of change. Second, the fact that core IT skills are becoming integral to non-IT roles (or if they haven’t quite yet in some organizations, they are very close to being so).

CIOs, by the very nature of the path they have chosen, will have a relatively high TQ. But their conversation within the business is now about value, not technology. They are stepping out of an IT silo and aligning with other heads of business to deliver change. 

The emphasis now is on the CIO as the primary driver of transformation. And this means a greater emphasis is being placed on their wider business acumen, their conversations with clients, partners and suppliers, and the cross-industry insights they bring to the business.

A purpose-driven organization 

The growing importance of TQ does not herald a technology-deterministic future though. Quite the opposite. Human empathy and genuine human connections will continue to play a key role in successful, tech-savvy organizations as part of the predicted Hybrid Reality.

I hear firsthand how CIOs and other business leaders now have a strong focus on a clearly defined organizational purpose that guides decision-making and behaviour. Narratives that reflect authentic, shared values bring together the ‘soft aspects’ of a company and help to create a committed, purpose-led workforce.

Employees that find a purpose — a meaning in their work — will grow, develop and share their knowledge with their peers.

It is these soft, ‘human’ elements such as employee engagement, commitment and collaboration that will, in combination with TQ, enable and empower the transformation that’s currently taking place within organizations.

TQ and jobs of the future

We all know that jobs in the future will be very different to those of today and that certain roles will disappear as a result of digitization. The notion of AI and humans working alongside each other as partners is becoming a reality and businesses need to prepare for that.

To illustrate this, one of the CIOs I have spoken to recently explained how they have a team of 1,000 people simply to maintain the company’s ERP system. The objective is to reduce this number of people to zero, through machine learning and AI — although not at the cost of the human talent.

By automating routine tasks and introducing intelligence to workflows, companies are seeing the potential to change jobs for the better for today’s workforce. Innately human skills such as empathy, intuition and communication (termed ‘emotional labour’), is where humans will be adding the greatest value.

Meanwhile, the IT department’s growing strategic role within the business will have an impact specifically on IT jobs. While technological acumen will remain essential, industry expertise (i.e. understanding the business of an organisation) will be vital, with one CIO telling me that 40% of his IT department is made up of industry experts, as opposed to IT specialists.

GenZ already has this all covered, right?

A 2019 PwC report has found that the greatest barrier to digital innovation is a lack of skills, especially of talent that possesses both digital skills (TQ) and highly-developed soft, ‘human’ skills.

With Generation Z entering the workforce and bringing greater digital fluency to the workplace, one can predict a sharp increase in TQ in the future, but the competition for top talent will be strong.

Companies need to deliver consumer-grade experiences and provide the technology that matches the one that GenZ members are accustomed to in their personal lives.

We might ask ourselves then, shouldn’t GenZ be in the driving seat of digital transformation and pave the way for the next stage of Hybrid Reality? What does this mean if your workforce is of a mature age?

When discussing this with businesses that are advanced in their digital transformation journeys, their answer was clear. In today’s era of profound, continuous change, the decisive elements of success are not age-related.

The key to success is anchored in a willingness to learn, an open mindset and — most importantly — the ability to ask the right questions. These are the precursors of a highly developed digital fluency and the evolved ‘human touch’ capabilities that businesses today need.

Top-performing CIOs not only recognise these precursors, but are actively demonstrating these attributes in their own behaviour.

How high is your TQ?